In the run up to the new Fantasy Premier League (FPL) season, an element of a manager’s strategy may well be increasing the value of their team; that is the monetary value of the players at their disposal. Each manager starts with £100m to assemble a squad of 15, but these values fluctuate as the season progresses based on the transfer activity related to that player. In many ways then, whereas draft FPL games rely on sales disciplines of negotiation between managers, the classic FPL game (the focus of this article) is more akin to stock trading. A manager aims to buy low and sell before that player’s value starts to decrease. Of course building the value of a team is not the principal objective, which is scoring points but the two are indivisible: the more money you have, the more you can afford the high-value players, which increases options available to you.
Therefore, there is an undoubted competitive advantage to be found by maximising the value of your team. However, an underappreciated reality of the game is just how much value is wiped out throughout the course of the season, and if we are aware of this and can plan accordingly then there is potentially an advantage to be found.
Overpriced assets: £257m lost
Of course, the stock market of players works both ways. As a player is traded into more teams his valuation rises, so does the opposite occur. If you hold onto an underperforming asset for too long, his value will fall along with the money available to you to sign a replacement.
Player price rises and falls are capped in the FPL game, to £0.1m at a time (per day). Logically this means that more value will be lost from the market than added. To illustrate this point, consider the simple hypothetical scenario of five players:
- Player A has a brilliant week, scoring 15 points
- Players B-E do not perform well, scoring no more than two points each.
- Each player had equal ownership of 10,000 managers each at the start of the week. However, after the performances, the 40,000 managers owning Players B-E transfer out their players and bring in Player A
- Player A’s ownership now stands at 50,000, and so his valuation will rise. The FPL game caps this rise at £0.1m.
- The mass sale of Players B-E results in each player losing the maximum allowed value per day, £0.1m. The total loss of valuation for these players is £0.4m
- Therefore, the loss of valuation in the marketplace is £0.1m – £0.4m = -£0.3m
- Therefore, the loss of valuation in the marketplace is £0.1m – £0.4m = -£0.3m
Inherent in this theory is the assumption that fewer players will hit form than those that do not. This theory is supported by the realities of the game: in the last two seasons combined, a startling £257.3m was lost in player value (£121.9m in 2014/2015, £135.4m in 2015/2016). The chart below shows that the each price range and position is affected by this.
Figure 1: Average rise and fall of player valuations from gameweek one to gameweek 38, by player position and starting value bracket, seasons 2014/15 and 2015/16 (n=1,071; note that only players present during gameweek one are included)
At the start of the season, with so much uncertainty around how each team will approach the season with new personnel in place, the FPL game starts with a pricing structure that assumes all players will play to their expected abilities. The fact that only a few rise above this expectation is the reason why we see so much value lost elsewhere.
The case for the defence
Whilst it is true that all positions are effected, goalkeepers’ and defenders’ valuations are far less volatile on average than the midfielders and forwards. This can be explained by the relative statuses of attackers and defenders; attackers will bring in larger rewards over the course of the season and so:
- command significant valuations,
- are more under the spotlight due to these valuations which can lead to a quicker loss of patience, and
- are more vulnerable to stellar performances from peers which draw managers away.
My strategy for the coming season, as I have written about elsewhere, is to keep the defence relatively consistent throughout the course of the season, focusing instead on a regular transferring policy for the midfielders and forwards. This was initially decided because the high scoring defensive players are more predictable as their points scoring ability is more linked to their team, namely their team’s ability to keep a clean sheet, whereas attackers rely on individual achievements (goals and assists) for the bulk of their points, and this is more variable and unpredictable.
Interestingly, the data shown here appears to support this strategy as sound. The more dramatic fluctuations in price amongst the forward-thinking players means that limiting the majority of transfer options to these positions will enable me to react more effectively to avoid a loss of value. Even if one of my defenders goes through a bad spell, the data here suggests that I should be less worried about this affecting my overall team value because the impact will not be as strongly felt.
The case for the early wildcard
Another factor to consider is when your team is most vulnerable to a loss of value. For this we need to again consider the hypothetical scenario described earlier. If Player A hits a run of form and managers rush towards him, there is nothing inherent in the game or the wider sport to suggest this should be limited to a time range. Therefore, we would expect player valuation rises to occur regularly and consistently throughout the season.
However, in the scenario described above, there are a multitude of players ditched at the same time to facilitate the incoming Player A. This logically should happen at the start of the season, before form as been established and teams start homogenising; later in the season, after these cycles of chasing form players has recycled several times, fewer players will be sold because many teams have player from a smaller pool, refined down from previous gold rushes. This will have the effect of reducing the value lost in the market, because – again, in the hypothetical thought experiment – if only two players have been sacrificed for the acquisition of Player A, then only £0.2m would be lost as opposed to the £0.4m from the original scenario.
This is what we see played out over the last two seasons.
Figure 2: Number of players per week to rise and fall in valuation, 2014-2016 (n=4,743. Note that there 37,193 instances where the player value did not change)
The chart above illustrates the aforementioned points perfectly, that there is a loss of valuation across a massive number of players at the start of the season which decreases over time, whereas players experiencing a spike in valuation are relatively consistent across the season.
This has very clear implications for FPL wildcard strategy. Gameweeks 3 and 4 are the peak periods when the most players drop in value; in the last two seasons, 258 and 239 players have gone down in price in these two weeks respectively. This will be due to the rush of managers using their wildcards in this period, of which I will include myself over the last two seasons. The process of events are in this chronology:
- At the start of the season, with so many new signings across all teams (except yours, Arsenal fans), it is difficult to know who will be the starters and who will take prominence in each team so most teams will look very different.
- The early wildcard is used by FPL managers in order to correct their mistakes, or more accurately to adapt to the new realities of the league. This has the impact of decreasing the value of the players involved in the exodus on a larger scale than at any other point in the season.
- Fewer players are brought in, thus reducing the pool of players currently in use
- The cycle repeats itself throughout the season, creating an ever decreasing pool of players in use and limiting the number of assets who are vulnerable to a price fall (unfortunately, these are the players are in use, so teams are still affected).
The argument therefore is to use the wildcard as early as possible, in order to beat the rush and not suffer the double punch of rising prices of targets and falling prices of current assets. This requires FPL managers to be diligent, vigilant and decisive soon after the end of gameweek 2.
Obviously, there is a caveat here: you have to have chosen the wrong players to begin with. Not every manager is going to need to wildcard because the majority of their assets will be performing, not losing value, and their squads require only minor adjustments. However, I’d wager that most managers will look at the state of play after a couple of gameweeks and become aware that their pre-season assumptions were off and surgery is required. If that’s not you, then congratulations, but if you do find yourself in that position, my advice is to act fast.
Personally, I believe that the probability is against me picking a perfect squad in advance of the kick-off and I will need to wildcard early (I have needed to in the last two seasons). Therefore, I’m taking the leap of cementing that assumption into reality by only planning a squad that is capable of competing for the first five weeks (based on favourability of fixtures, primarily) and studying the form, line-ups and tactics intensively for the first two weeks with the view to wildcarding decisively and quickly in those first few weeks to preserve my team’s value and steadily grow it through the acquisition of form players.
The value of value?
I have seen blogs, articles and tweets in the last few weeks with differing ideas on value; some see it as important and advise making transfers early in the window to beat the price rise (and of course, the drop), whereas others do not place much importance on it, preferring instead to make transfers at the last minute once all the Friday press conferences have revealed likely team selections.
The data here indicates that both have merit at different stages of the season. I would argue that in the first few weeks there is a clear need to act fast to avoid being stuck with players of falling value as they are numerous. The first few weeks will involve a manic reorganising of teams to accommodate new knowledge based on emerging trends, and I would say, as this is when a significant amount of player value is lost, it is wise to keep ahead of the pack by chasing form and acting decisively. Loading your team with form players will avoid a loss of value, and even enhance your team’s value.
However, after around a third of the season has passed, the players with falling values will be a lot fewer, arguably allowing for a more patient tactic on a weekly basis. Rising player values will be happening at the same rate throughout the season, but there is less chance of you being punished for holding onto underperforming assets.